Does Shashi Tharoor think like CinemaRasik? – Certainly Not in Spirit

On August 16, we wrote an article “Differences Between China and India – Our Perspectives” on this blog. This article was reprinted in a local e-newspaper on August 20, 2008.

A few days later, on August 24, 2008, Shashi Tharoor, a former undersecretary of the United Nations, published an opinion titled “Two Countries, Different Aims” in the Washington Post.

When we read Mr. Tharoor’s article, we were initially delighted to see how similar the two articles seemed. You could judge for yourself by reading our article (scroll down this page till you come to our article dated August 16 or read it at www.cinemarasik.com/2008/08/09/differences-between-chinese-and-indian-people-and-attitudes-and-governments.aspx) and then reading Mr. Tharoor’s article at  www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/22/AR2008082202401.html .

A few excerpts would show you what we mean.

The two articles begin the same way.

CinemaRasik – The American Media, especially the Financial Media, loves to use “Chindia” as a catch-all phrase. Why are food prices so high? Why are oil prices so high? Why is global growth so strong? Why will the global economy avoid recessions? Why has the US turned from being a price-maker to a price-taker? The answer to all such questions, according to the Media, is “Chindia”.

Mr. Tharoor –
It has become rather fashionable these days to speak of India and China in the same breath. These are the two big countries said to be taking over the world, the new contenders for global eminence after centuries of Western domination, the Oriental answer to generations of Occidental economic success. Some even speak of “Chindia,” as if the two nations were joined at the hip in the international imagination.

Then both articles argued that the Olympics offer a prime example of the difference between the two Governments – that China devoted significant efforts and resources to Olympics but India did not. Both articles used Bollywood as the counterexample to make the case that India works differently; then both articles made the case that Indian entrepreneurship is a key difference between China and India.

CinemaRasik –
The immediate and stark example is the performance of the two Governments in Olympic sports…..Several years ago, the Chinese Government decided that success at Olympics was an issue of national pride. The Chinese Government devoted significant resources to build a world class infrastructure for Olympic competition….India is a people-oriented society. What succeeds in India is what the people want….This is equally true of Bollywood, the focus of our blog. Today, Bollywood is considered to be the world’s most global entertainment franchise and major Hollywood stars like Will Smith and Snoop Dogg are trying hard to enter the Bollywood scene. .... wherever the Indian Government has devoted its commitment and resources to an effort, it has failed miserably…The Indian corporate sector decided at that time that they were going to become world-class companies despite their Government. The results of this transformation are striking and form the basis of the tremendous performance of the Indian stock market……..

Mr. Tharoor –
What has happened at the Olympics speaks to a basic difference in the two countries’ systems. China, as befits a communist autocracy, approached the task of dominating the Olympics with top-down military discipline. It determined its objective, drew up a program, brought considerable state resources to bear, acquired state-of-the-art technology and imported world-class foreign coaches. India, by contrast, approached these Olympics as it had every other, with its usual combination of amiable amateurism, bureaucratic ineptitude, half-hearted experimentation and shambolic organization...That’s simply the way we are. It’s the creative chaos of an all-singing, all-dancing Bollywood musical…But where China’s state-owned enterprises remain the most powerful motors of the country’s development, India’s private sector — ducking around government obstacles and bypassing the stifling patronage of the state — has transformed the fortunes of the Indian people.

But the similarities end when we come to the spirit of the two articles.

Our article describes the differences between the two countries and then tells you why,despite all of its obvious problems, “India has always managed to win the long race” and that “there has to be something very intrinsic in India’s core that enables this long term success.”  We end our article with the question:
“So when you look at China and India, you wonder which model will succeed in the next 25 years:


  • the disciplined, mono-ethnic, centrally controlled, strength-oriented Chinese model or

  • the chaotic, multi-ethnic, decentralized, flexibility-oriented Indian model.”

Mr. Tharoor ends his article with a statement – “That is how it should be: India is a fractious democracy; China is not. China will win the Olympic medals for many Games to come. But India, perhaps, might win some hearts.”

The spirit of Mr. Tharoor’s article – What we find so wrong with it

To begin with, it is his title “Two Countries, Different Aims”. This is sheer nonsense. Both countries have the same aims:


  • Develop the country,

  • Build a Prosperous Society,

  • Improve the Standard of Living of all its citizens,

  • Protect the people, protect the country,

  • Make the country into a globally dominant power.
What is different between the two countries is the method used to achieve the same aims and the determination, the diligence of the two Governments in the pursuit of these identical aims!

Was Mr. Tharoor’s title a simple misstatement of his intent and did he mean to say what we just said? No, we do not think so. Let us tell you why.

Mr. Shashi Tharoor has been a bureaucrat. He is the product of the same system that has produced the Indian Bureaucrats of the Indian Administrative Service. These people have always used India’s “fractious democracy” as an excuse for their dismal track record of mismanaging India’s development. They always seek to hide their incompetence and failure by pointing to India’s divisions.

If you don’t believe us, read how Mr. Tharoor excuses his colleagues –
“in attempting its Narmada Dam project, aiming to bring irrigation, drinking water and power to millions, India has spent 34 years (so far) fighting environmental groups, human rights activists and advocates for the displaced all the way to the Supreme Court, while still being thwarted in the streets by protesters from nongovernmental organizations such as the Save Narmada Movement”

Sheer nonsense. If Indian bureaucrats were responsive to the concerns of the Indian people, India would be a completely different society by now. Getting people to co-operate is always easier in a true democracy (where the Government works for the people) than in an autocracy.

The reality is that Indian Bureaucrats spend virtually all their time cosing up to the elected ministers, mingling with Western dignitaries and media, always complaining about the problems of Indian democracy and forever begging for Western consideration and aid.

The reality is that Indian Bureaucrats,


  • do not pay any heed to the legitimate concerns of India’s people in any matter;

  • ignore all attempts of the people to reason with them, secure in their utter arrogance about being India’s prized civil servants;

  • then, left with no other choice, the people take to the streets and protests get violent;

  • the elected politicians then blame the bureaucrats;

  • then the bureaucrats shelve their plans and blame India’s fractious democracy as Mr. Tharoor does;

  • the end result is that no development takes place.
Then, India’s bureaucrats console themselves over scotch and cigars at their clubs and, like Mr. Tharoor, cry plaintively to their western counterparts, “China will win but perhaps India can win some hearts”.

Frankly, we are ashamed of Mr. Tharoor’s final comment and of the spirit of his article. Our only consolation is that Mr. Tharoor is just a bureaucrat. He is not an entrepreneur, not a Bollywood producer, not a Cricket Player. So, our basic optimism about India and its entrepreneurs remains intact.

The email address given by Mr. Tharoor – An indication of his mindset?


At the end of his article, Mr. Tharoor provides an email address, presumably for comments and questions. Other writers who shared the opinion page with Shashi Tharoor provided their own emails. For example, on that day, Francis Fukuyama, George Will, David Broder, James Hoagland, David Ignatius, all highly regarded columnists, listed their own emails at the end of their articles.(check it out at  www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/opinions/outlook/index_20080824.html )

In stark contrast to these noted writers, Mr. Tharoor provided the email address “tharoor.assistant@gmail.com“.

This hit us very hard and right in our emotional gut. To us, this act symbolizes everything we have written about the behavior of Indian Bureaucrats and their utter tone-deaf mindset. Specifically, Mr. Tharoor’s use of the email address “tharoor.assistant@gmail.com” suggests to us that:


  • Mr. Tharoor considers himself to be too much of a big shot to read his own emails;

  • Mr. Tharoor thinks that comments from the readers of the Washington Post are either a nuisance or beneath him and that,

  • his assistant is the one who should deal with this nuisance and above all,

  • to him, his assistant does not need the dignity of his or her own name; instead the assistant should feel honored to be described to the world as “tharoor.assistant”.
Perhaps, it is such behavior by Indian Bureaucrats that makes Indian Democracy so fractious.

We do not mean to be unfair or unjust to Mr. Shashi Tharoor. It is possible he did not intend to convey the impression that we perceived from his use of that email-address. So, in the tradition of this blog, we extend an open invitation to Mr. Tharoor to respond to this article either via email to editor@www.cinemarasik.com or with an article of his own. We will  publish his response verbatim. He could also post his comments on this blog himself

Send your feedback to editor@www.cinemarasik.com.

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